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As Syria fighting rages, activists urge help with transition

posted Oct 2, 2012, 2:59 AM by Syrian Transition
28 Sept 2012 (AFP) Syrian grassroots activists preparing for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad appealed Friday to world leaders for help in building a democracy, as armed rebels unleashed a "decisive" battle for Aleppo.

The nine activists, who have been working with local coordination committees in cities such as Homs, were attending a meeting of the ad-hoc Friends of Syria group being hosted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Some of them had traveled from within Syria to New York to spell out to leaders of about two dozen countries -- out of the 90 nations which make up the group -- what their needs are.

Clinton was also expected to unveil further funding to help the Syrian opposition as it battles to topple Assad, and end an 18-month conflict that has claimed some 30,000 lives.

The United States has already provided some $100 million in humanitarian assistance, and a further $25 million in non-lethal aid. Washington has, however, also insisted it will not bow to calls to arm the rebels, fearing it will further complicate the situation on the ground.

In a sign of the dangers they are facing, the nine members of local coordinating committees, the Syrian National Council, the Homs Revolutionary Council as well as two other groups asked not to be identified.

"It's important to recognize the courage of these people, but also we need to hear from them firsthand about the types of support that they want," a senior State Department official said Thursday.

The meeting came as armed rebels unleashed an unprecedented barrage of mortar fire against troops in Aleppo after announcing a "decisive" battle for Syria's second city.

Shells crashed down at a steady rate and clashes were widespread, leaving layers of dust and smoke over Aleppo, according to the residents and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"The fighting is unprecedented and has not stopped since Thursday. The clashes used to be limited to one or two blocks of a district, but now the fighting is on several fronts," the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Earlier Friday, Clinton told a joint meeting of G8 countries and Arab Spring nations focusing on economic ties that they wanted "to send a clear message to all those in the region... we stand with you and we will stand with you as long as it takes."

"Extremists are clearly determined to hijack these wars and revolutions to further their agendas and ideology, so our partnership must empower those who would see their nations emerge as true democracies," she added.

US officials insist the regime is losing ground, pointing to cracks in the Assad power structure including defections, military losses, and the loss of control of many of border crossings.

One of the major concerns is the growing refugee crisis. About one million to 1.5 million people are internally displaced, with a further 300,000 having slipped into neighboring countries, according to UN estimates.

On Thursday the State Department official revealed that just this week, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) managed to sneak enough medical supplies across the border and into southern Syria to treat some 27,000 people.

US officials say they are also getting appeals from Syrians inside the country to help them with organizing life inside liberated areas.

They have supplied some 1,200 pieces of electrical equipment to help opposition organizations keep in contact with each other, as the Syrian regime jams all communications, and embarked on democracy training programs.

"We have worked very hard to make sure that in these places where the regime is targeting civilians, where the killing is atrocious, that the story can be heard," the State Department official said.

Other initiatives included helping people to repair fuel lines, or maintain infrastructure with the Syrian regime no longer providing basic services.

Iraq was joining the meeting of the Friends of Syria for the first time, in growing recognition of the role it plays in the region, and the number of refugees it is now hosting.